(First appeared on IVN.us)
Crazy times in America these days. The wrathful hurricanes pounding the South and the East Coast and the wildfires devouring the Northwest echo our storm-tossed politics. Everything is turned upside down, everything is fevered, everything is being washed away. And yet (and this is the craziest thing of all) nothing seems to change. Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan once observed, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. True that. If you’re an independent, you can lick your finger tip, put it in the air, and feel the winds beginning to shift.
One of my favorite barometers is the solidly anti-independent New York Times. I read a great piece of fake news in Sunday’s edition, a front-page headline, “Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rule.” Here’s the correction to the fake news. It will take a lot more than Donald Trump to upend two-party rule. For example, the voters will have to play a part—a big part—in upending two-party rule, including the 44% of Americans who are independents. As ever, the New York Times subscribes to the “Great Man Theory of History,” even when it hates the man. But, the Times got another detail wrong, probably for the same reason. When it reported that Trump had briefly attempted an independent presidential run in 2000 with the Reform Party, it added, “In the end, he dropped the campaign and the Reform Party…” Fake News! I was there. I might not be great or a man, but I know what happened. The Reform Party dropped Trump, not the other way around.
In fairness, the Times got one thing right. Political parties are in turmoil. The political machines that run them are feverishly working to contain that unrest. The Bernie Sanders Movement is at odds with the Democratic National Committee. Networks in the Sanders Movement are questioning whether to “stay and fight” in the party or build something independent. Rev. Al Sharpton has called out the post-Obama Democratic Party for turning its back on the African American community in favor of its white left base. Last week, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate cut a deal with the president who, according to many Democrats, is the “Devil” himself.
The Republican Party is split every which way from Sunday—the economic nationalists vs. the Wall Street globalists, the pro-reform moderates vs. the hard-line party control freaks, the Trump empire vs. the GOP social conservatives, though sometimes the latter align. Steve Bannon is reportedly planning to field a set of primary challengers to GOP Senate incumbents, and the Mitch McConnell crowd is furious.
These divisions in both parties are not simply the latest rounds of internal party conflict-as-usual. They are the stuff of a systemic unraveling that could yield the politics of what the pollster Pat Caddell likes to call “Otherness.”
In my view, the job of the emergent independent movement is to shape and to become that “Otherness.” You can read about many aspects of the movement’s growth on this wonderfully subversive news site, IVN.us. There is much action being reported on here, and it is just the tip of the iceberg. To be sure, there are differences and distinctions within our movement, but we should be able to build with those differences. Back in the days of the Reform Party, we created a dynamic multiracial, cross-ideological coalition that put social issues on the backburner and developed an alliance around systemic political and economic reform.
There is a road opening up for a powerful, independent, anti-establishment force in American politics. But the signs along that road can be confusing. On the one hand, ideological divides seem to be hardening. Look at Charlottesville, the battles over immigration, and health care. At the same time, though, the ideological divide is breaking down, and the traditional categories of politics are blurring. Sanders voters crossed over to Trump in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and—according to a recent survey done at UMass/Amherst—may have given Trump his edge. Numbers of Obama voters in 2008 and 2012 cast ballots for Trump. Over one million African American voters stayed home rather than vote for Hillary Clinton, a costly deficit to her campaign. Black voter turnout in a presidential contest dropped for the first time in 20 years, down by 7 points in comparison to 2012. Voter loyalty to any particular party is fraying.
Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a People’s Convergence Conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by several groups, including the Draft Bernie for a People’s Party Movement. My message to the Bernie Movement and others gathered in D.C. was this: If you are ready to walk away from the Democrats and want to go independent — whether via creating a party, creating a coalition, joining with and restyling the Greens, or something else (all of which were discussed at the Convergence event in D.C.) — you will have to be relevant to that paradoxical shift away from ideologically-based politics. This means seeking out joint activity with “others” that breaks down ideological boundaries. At one point in the conversation, I suggested that the Bernie Independents might advocate for a merger between the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. Most people (but not everyone) in the audience grimaced. But if 44% of the country desires an alternative, an otherness, wouldn’t such boundary-breaking moves have to be considered?
A Word on the Title of My Column. In 2004, with financial and political support from the progressive wing of the independent movement, I launched a print magazine called the Neo-Independent. Its subtitle was “The Politics of Becoming.” It published for four years. The name was chosen as a play on the term “neo-cons,” the banner of the Warrior Clique who took America to war in Afghanistan and Iraq following the September 11 attacks. The Neo-Independent was to signify that we were creating an independent alternative to the neo-cons in the post-Perot, post-Reform Party world. I always loved the name (and the magazine) and so I chose to repurpose it for this column. With the neo-liberals having inflicted such severe damage on our country through their control of the Democratic Party, the Neo-Independent seeks to create an alternative to both the neo-cons and the neo-liberals. We’ve had enough ideology. Let’s have some genuine independent humanism for a change.
Jacqueline Salit is President of Independent Voting, a national association of independent voters, and the author of “Independents Rising: Outsider Movements,” “Third Parties, and the Struggle for a Post-Partisan America” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); and “Finding Otherness: A Blueprint for an Independent Conversation about 2020.”